Sep 24, 2020
Sexual abuse that occurs in childhood exploits and degrades some of the most vulnerable in our society, causing serious developmental problems that can last for a lifetime. The damage can manifest in many ways, affecting children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. We as a society have a responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse. Support services and policies to help children develop properly and lead normal lives are critical, as are social programs designed meet their basic emotional and physical needs. Public education and publicly funded research into the causes and prevention of child sexual abuse are also essential. Finally, we must use the legal system to seek justice and recover financial damages for victims of child sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse of children involves exposing or subjecting a child to sexual contact or behavior that is inappropriate for their age. Such abuse can involve a variety of sexual acts including inappropriate or unwanted touching of the genitals, buttocks, or breasts. Child pornography and child prostitution, along with exposing children to adult pornography, exhibitionism, and lewd comments about sexual topics, are additional forms of child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is harmful in part because children cannot fully comprehend what they are experiencing or why they may be participating in such acts. They are not developmentally prepared to understand the magnitude and ramifications of sexual acts. As a result, they cannot legitimately give their consent to such behaviors. Predators take advantage of children’s innocence, encouraging or forcing them to do things they would not do if their minds were further developed and they were better educated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child sexual abuse is a significant public health problem that many children never report. The prevalence of child sexual abuse is therefore difficult to determine, and studies have reached somewhat different conclusions. Generally speaking, however, the following statistics are considered widely accepted:
Another study found that at least 12-35% of women and 4-9% of men in the U.S. were sexually abused as children. This type of abuse can also be perpetrated by other children. Research indicates that about 39-40% of reported sexual assaults against children up to age 11 are committed by another juvenile.
There are many warning signs that someone may be sexually abusing a child. Such signs can include instances where an adult:
It is important to note that sexual abusers of children do not always engage in these outward behaviors. Many are able to hide their crimes, in part by intimidating their victims into keeping the abuse a secret.
The consequences of child sexual abuse are often severe and can be physical, emotional, and/or psychological. Physical harm can be hard to detect because most abusers avoid causing obvious physical injuries so that the abuse goes unnoticed. As a result, this crime is different from rape, which often involves force and physical injury. However, sexual abuse of children can sometimes produce physical injuries including:
It is uncommon for visible injuries to appear, although pregnancy can result from child sexual abuse.
In addition to physical trauma, sexual abuse can produce behavioral and psychological changes in children such as:
These are just some of the short-term consequences of child sexual abuse. Over the long term, victims can develop clinical depression, low self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, and other problems that can severely affect their quality of life.
California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218), passed in 2019, is landmark legislation that aims to help secure justice for childhood sexual abuse survivors. As of January 1, 2020, AB 218 temporarily removes the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases under the law’s three-year “lookback window.” This means that under AB 218, people who have survived childhood sexual abuse can bring a civil lawsuit to recover financial damages within three years of the bill’s passage, no matter when the crime was committed.
However, childhood sexual abuse survivors need to be aware that the lookback window under AB 218 only extends through Dec. 31, 2022. On Jan. 1, 2023, the statute of limitations will be reinstated. After this happens, survivors who failed to pursue justice by filing a civil lawsuit for financial damages before 2023 may forfeit their legal options and be left without any recourse against their perpetrator(s).
During the limited lookback window period under AB 218, childhood sexual abuse survivors have the chance to pursue treble damages in cases where they can prove that an individual or institution engaged in a cover-up of a crime. This provision is meant to severely punish individuals and institutions who have committed systemic sexual abuse against children, in many cases over the course of several decades. Under the law, if there is a cover-up surrounding your childhood sexual abuse case, you could be awarded triple financial damages for your civil lawsuit. In other words, if you were awarded a $10 million award for damages related to past childhood sexual abuse, you would actually receive $30 million under the treble damages clause.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent children from becoming victims of sexual abuse. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., being actively involved in a child’s life can help adults perceive warning signs of sexual abuse early on so they can work to stop it and mitigate the damage. Children also should be encouraged to speak up if they believe something is wrong.
According to RAINN, parents should:
The Child Mind Institute has additional suggestions for parents and other adults that will help children acquire the skills they need to prevent sexual abuse. Adults should teach children that:
Body secrets are potentially harmful. Most perpetrators of sexual assault encourage their victims not to tell anyone about the act of abuse. The abuser can accomplish this through guilt by telling the child that they won’t be able to see each other again if the secret is revealed. The threat could be more explicit. For example, the abuser can tell the child that if he or she says anything, the abuser will claim it was the child’s idea and the child will be punished. For these reasons, children should be instructed to inform a trusted adult if anyone tells them to keep a secret about their body.
No one should take photos of their private parts. Child pornography has become a worldwide epidemic. Children should know that no one is allowed to take photos or videos of their genitals or other private body parts.
They can get out of scary or uncomfortable situations. Some children find it hard to say “no” to adults or older friends. Teach them that they can always say they have to leave for some reason, such as to go to the bathroom, if they feel scared or uncomfortable.
They will never be punished if they tell an adult a body secret. As previously mentioned, children often believe that if they voice their concerns, they will face some sort of punishment or recrimination. Child sexual abusers can take advantage of these fears to silence their victims. Children should be told that, regardless of the circumstances, they will never be disciplined for speaking up about body safety or body secrets.
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Older children can use a code word when they feel unsafe or want to be picked up. They can use this code word whenever necessary, such as when guests are visiting or they are sleeping at someone else’s house.
A body touch might tickle or feel good. Discussions about “good” and “bad” touching can be confusing to children because even “bad” touching often feels good in some temporary instances. Use the term “secret touch,” which more accurately describes sexual abuse because it is usually committed in secret.
Finally, tell children that these rules apply even with people they know and interact with regularly, including other children. Help them realize that not all “bad” people look like cartoon villains or people they see arrested on the news. A sexual predator or perpetrator may very well be someone a child loves or respects. When children are taught to establish and maintain proper physical boundaries, it reduces – but does not eliminate – the chances of being victimized by a sexual predator.
At Dordulian Law Group, our Sexual Abuse Justice Experts Team (SAJE) is here to help survivors pursue the justice and financial compensation they deserve. With the passage of AB 218, survivors have a new (albeit limited) opportunity to hold sexual abuse perpetrators accountable for their actions.
We are here to answer any questions you have via a free, no obligation consultation. And, with our ‘no fee guarantee,’ you never have to worry about paying anything up front. If we do not recover a financial damages award, you pay nothing out of pocket. Our years of experience and proven track record – with a 98% success rate in sexual abuse cases and over $100 million recovered – is why clients continue to choose us for their legal needs.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and workers compensation concerns.